Until last weekend, I would have declared that river trails were my favorite. Now they vie for top honors with ridge trails. But then I’ll sing the praises of any hike that boasts of flat land. Blame it on my growing up in Ohio.
In any case, on Saturday, May 13, PATC hikers recently found their way to the Longdale Furnace exit from I-64, just west of Lexington, and from there up a twisting gravel road (Rt. 770) to a trailhead that runs along the ridgeline of North Mountain. The stunningly clear and cool day and the fine views both right and left of the trail combined to keep camera shutters clicking and the compliments coming. “Hiking Upward” and at least one guidebook go so far as to declare this hike “Rockbridge County’s finest trail.”
They made the hike an out-and-back, with a turnaround at Pete’s Cave for a total of close to seven miles total, or for the Fitbit wearers, upwards of 18,000 steps.
To be fair, Pete’s Cave is more a refuge made of tumbled rocks than an actual cave, but the rock outcroppings just beyond proved to be a great location for lunch and provided fine views west toward the Allegheny mountains. Being a ridge trail, we had already benefited from several overlooks at the beginning of the hike that revealed expansive views to the east. In that direction, given the afternoon’s blue skies, we could see the peaks VMI cadets call “Big House” and “Little House,” as well as the eastern end of the Short Hills.
As is often the case, our band of ten quickly spread out accordingly to differently paced legs, with hike leaders Andre Meyer and Barbara Martin out in front. Marit Anderson explained the merits of the Appalachian Trail itself to our newest hikers from the University of Virginia’s Graduate School of Engineering. Iranian twin brothers Mehrdad and Farzad Dijazi proved to be able to keep up with the best of us, leaving Iva Gillet to walk and talk with Mark Perschel (aka Mark Trail) and catch up on recent tall tales from Peru. (Perschel, Anderson, Meyer and Martin all were less than a week returned from guided hikes to Machu Picchu and Peru’s significantly higher elevations than our 3,200 or so feet of height along the North Mountain.) Jeanne Siler and Rudy Karsch ambled along as well, followed by Bill Holman in his favored position as sweep.
Without major changes in verticality, hikers were free to comment on the massive fields of invasive garlic mustard—too widespread to even think of uprooting—the mountain laurel just about to pop everywhere, and how GPS coordinates have practically made bearing trees obsolete. We saw lots of flutter-bys and heard some daytime spring peepers near a vernal pond—those ephemeral shallow bodies of water in the woods that fill up with spring rains, but disappear by summertime.
Being social creatures as well as outdoor enthusiasts, most of the original group followed Andre to his nearby mountainside bungalow for a hearty late afternoon potluck, complete with birthday cake, ice cream and party favors for the ever-maturing Mr. Holman.